Post-pandemic slow down in rap


These are very exciting times for hip-hop in general, and the recent high-profile beefs between Kendrick Lamar and Drake have put it back in the spotlight in a big way.

I’ll get back to the latest on all that drama shortly but, closer to home, things don’t seem to be accelerating at the promising rate they were a few years ago.

In Ireland, there’s been amazing success stories in recent years.

Hip-hop and related genres have progressed greatly, but there’s been a bit of slow-down in the last couple of years.

The pandemic/lockdown era marked a culmination of a good few years of progress for rap in this country. Hip-hop had always been popular here, but it’s fair to say it was far more underground in the 90s and 2000s.

I’ve written extensively on the pioneers of this era before, but it wasn’t until the mid 2010s that the mainstream media really started taking hip-hop culture seriously.

The Rusangano family won best album at the high-profile Choice Music awards in 2017 for Let the Dead Bury the Dead, and this marks a point for me when the national media woke up to the underground.

The following years were relatively fruitful for rap in Ireland and festivals started booking rap acts. The mainstream media — and not just blogs —started covering rap, and radio started playing more Irish hip-hop too.

JYellowL, Denise Chaila, Jafaris, Nealo, Tebi Rex and many more acts broke through in this era and, by the time the pandemic hit, there were many new voices in both the underground and mainstream.

The lockdown put even more young producers and rappers to work at home, and it was a fairly prolific time for rap in Ireland.

There was more attention than ever on Irish rap, and the likes of Denise Chaila and others became national superstars.

Kojaque and others also built further on all of the hard work they had been putting in on the ground level.

Meanwhile, Irish drill and trap broke down even more walls and the whole A-92 crew, Sello, and Travis and Elzzz took an even more subversive underground sound to the top at festivals, shows, and on streaming services.

Suddenly Irish rap was charting and hitting No 1. Travis and Elzzz, Offica, Kojaque and others have continued to build on their momentum, while Kneecap have also exploded both here and abroad.

However, overall there’s been a bit of a dip lately — bar some notable exceptions.

The underground is as vibrant as ever and, as always, much of the best rap-related stuff happens in other genres, but there have not been too many new rappers breaking out in the last year or so.

Breaking out is not everything though, and the vibrancy of the scene at the grassroots coming from crews like Dublin’s Outstraight records is encouraging.

Cork is very quiet right now though, so let’s see what happens as the year progresses.

In the US, the verbal beef between Kendrick Lamar and Drake shows no sign of abating.

The plethora of diss tracks are all making big dents on the mainstream and the Billboard charts are dominated by hip-hop tracks right now. Kendrick is making music that would not sound out of place on a big album.

The speed and ferocity of the back and forths is very exciting and, having written a column about mainstream rap’s malaise only two months ago, I’m delighted that hip-hop is well and truly back on the agenda because of this beef!

Unfortunately for Drake, the odds are stacked against him as all of the ghost writers in the world won’t help him spar against an opponent who is quite simply on a different level lyrically and spiritually.

Some of the Canadian’s clapbacks have been predictably cringey, but he really doesn’t have a chance versus Lamar — probably the genre’s deepest and most clever lyricist.

One of the best tweets on the whole saga came from someone who compared the pair off to Nina Simone battling Cilla Black, and it’s fair to say Kendrick will bring even more surprises going forward, unless Drake taps out. It’s been a demolition by the Compton MC!

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